This past Tuesday, Aaron Westrick, a whistleblower of defective bullet-proof vests, was awarded a Frank Wills & Martha Mitchell Pillar Award at the Whistleblower Summit for Civil and Human Rights.

Pillar Awards are given by the Whistleblower Summit for Civil and Human Rights to recognize individuals and organizations that serve the community by supporting first, fourth, and fifth amendment protections. Specifically, the Pillar Award honors whistleblowers that are victims of retaliation or other forms of adversity as a result of exposing the truth. The Award not only recognizes the courage and strength of the whistleblower, but also the immense and positive impact that their disclosures bring to their community. Past recipients of the Pillar Award have included Diane Williams and Senators Corey Booker, Rand Paul, and Ron Johnson.

Continue Reading Bullet-Proof Vest Whistleblower Aaron Westrick Receives Pillar Award

Today, Newsweek’s The Daily Beast announced that whistleblowers from across the country are donating a new how-to guide to local public libraries. So far, the whistleblowers have donated a thousand copies, which is only the beginning if their idea takes off. 

Written by the NWC’s very own Stephen M. Kohn, The Whistleblower Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Doing What’s Right and Protecting Yourself has received staunch praise from whistleblowers who have already fought through their cases. John Solomon of The Daily Best describes Mr. Kohn as, “a feared litigator in government and corporate circles, who wins three quarters of the cases he brings on behalf of aggrieved whistleblowers.”

Frederic Whitehurst, who blew the whistle on the FBI crime lab in the 1990s, came up with the library project and was interviewed for the Newsweek article. “With whistleblowers, if they lose their case, they lose their credibility, and that means they can’t fix the wrong they want to right. So this really is about citizen empowerment,” he explained. “Where do people go and what can they do to make change and have a major impact when they know of something wrong.” 

Dr. Whitehurst, Solomon reports, “would do it all again, [but] doesn’t want future whistleblowers to make the same mistakes he did.” This sentiment is shared among the 20 whistleblowers who are sending the Handbooks to libraries. They have all used their own money for the donations, hoping to “inspire Americans to blow the whistle on the next Enron-sized corporate fraud, a potentially devastating nuclear- or drug-safety issue, or the ethical transgressions of a government leader–but to do it in a way that saves them some of the heartache [they] endured.”

You can find the full list of 20 whistleblowers who have joined the cause, including Bunny Greenhouse, Sibel Edmonds, Robert Smith, Dr. David Lewis, and Linda Tripp, in the National Whistleblowers Center press release.

If you would like to join the whistleblowers’ initiative by donating a Handbook to a public library, click here.

*Owen Dunn (NWC Fellow) drafted this posting

As the research director for America’s largest body armor company, Dr. Aaron Westrick was the first official to oppose the sale of Zylon bulletproof vests. Based on his disclosures, these defective vests were forced off the market and police officers’ lives were saved.  Dr. Westrick was fired and his case is still ongoing.

Dr. Westrick will speak about his whistleblower experience on June 6th from 3:15 to 4:15 pm at the ArmorCon Expo in Tysons Corner, Virginia. His presentation is entitled “Combating Defective Armor: Protecting Our Warriors: The Path of a Whistleblower in the Armor Industry.”

Press interested in attending Dr. Westrick’s presentation please contact Lindsey Williams at lmw@whistleblowers.org.

Dr. Aaron Westrick

Dr. Aaron Westrick has won reinstatement of his claims under the California False Claims Act. Last Thursday, May 26, 2011, the California Court of Appeal for the Second District (in Los Angeles) issued its decision in State of California ex rel. Westrick v. Itochu International, Inc., Case No. B223053. On January 26, 2010, the Superior Court of Los Angeles County dismissed Westrick’s complaint, holding that his complaint did not plead the allegations of fraud with specificity. The Court of Appeal has now reversed and reinstated Westrick’s claims.

Dr. Westrick began his career as a police officer in Michigan. In 1982, he was shot by a fleeing burglar with a .357 Magnum from approximately five feet away. A Second Chance bulletproof vest, made of Kevlar, saved his life. Westrick subsequently earned a Ph.D. in sociology and criminal justice. In 1996, Second Chance hired Westrick as its director of research. On July 5, 2001, Dr. Westrick received a letter from the Japanese Toyobo Company stating that, “the strength of Zylon fiber decreases under high temperature and humidity conditions.” Dr. Westrick recognized that Zylon would degrade and that police officers would die while wearing "bullet-proof" vests made of Zylon. He asked his employer to recall its Zylon vests and have them tested.  In June 2003, Officer Tony Zeppetella of Oceanside, California, was killed when his $766 Zylon vest failed to stop two bullets. That same month, a police officer in Pennsylvania was seriously wounded when a bullet pierced his Zylon vest.

My colleague, Erik Snyder, presented Dr. Westrick’s argument to the Court of Appeal. It was Erik’s first oral argument. Based on this result, we can expect many more advances for whistleblower rights in Erik’s legal career. Congratulations to Erik and Dr. Westrick.

For more information about Dr. Westrick’s claims and the problems with Zylon, see this prior blog post. Some excerpts from the Court’s new decision follow in the continuation of this blog entry.

Continue Reading Westrick wins California appeal under state false claims act

Federal Judge Richard W. Roberts has denied a motion to dismiss a major suit claiming the Japanese manufacturer Toyobo sold millions of dollars of defective bulletproof vests.Dr. Aaron Westrick

Dr. Aaron Westrick filed the suit under the Federal False Claims Act in 2004, and the U.S. government formally joined the suit in 2005. The suit alleges that Toyobo conspired with Second Chance Body Armor, Inc. to sell defective body armor made of Toyobo’s Zylon material.

Thousands of vests were sold to police departments across the United States and the federal government. One police officer was killed and others were injured as a result of the use of defective Zylon in vests. The suit alleges that Toyobo and the companies who sold these vests knew about Zylon defects and concealed this information from their customers. The full text of a press release by the National Whistleblowers Center (NWC), with links to key documents, follows in the continuation of this blog entry.
 

Continue Reading Judge approves Westrick suit against Toyobo

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The U.S. Justice Department announced that it is suing First Choice Armor over its marketing of Zylon-based bullet-proof vests that the company knew would break down in heat or humidity. The suit follows disclosures by Dr. Aaron Westrick, a researcher for another manufacturer, who first opposed the use of Zylon for body protection.  Based on his disclosures, Zylon-based armor is now off the market, and officers lives have been saved.  Dr. Westrick was fired.

 

Continue Reading Government sues vest maker after whistleblower’s disclosures